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When separating twins for adoption is in their best interests

Date:9 JAN 2019
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David Bedingfield, barrister at 4 Paper Buildings, discusses how the court came to decide that it was in the best interests of twins to be separated for adoption, following ‘incompetence and serial failings’ by the local authority.

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Prospective Adopters for BT and another v County of Herefordshire District Council and others (A Local Authority and others intervening) [2018] EWFC 76

What are the practical implications of this case?

This case affirms that judges in care proceedings must determine the best interests of a child at the time of the hearing—the child’s current reality is the starting point. There is no assumption that the child’s birth family is the appropriate placement or in the best interests of the child. There is no ‘right’ that trumps the command in the Children Act 1989 and the Adoption and Children Act 2002 that the welfare of the child is the court’s paramount consideration.

This case also confirms that local authority care plans must set out, with particularity, what will occur in the future. Those care plans must be included in the bundle of documents that will be considered later by social workers, review panels and independent reviewing officers (IRO). The plans may only be changed after a full review by social workers and the IRO. It is likely that expert assessment is required if siblings are to be separated or if children are to be removed from long-term placements against the wishes of the carers.

Local authorities must be transparent with regard to all decisions made affecting children in their care and meetings must be minuted. Systems should be set up to ensure there are regular reviews of care plans for children in care. Those care plans must be followed, unless the welfare of the child requires they be changed. If they are changed, reasons must be clearly set out and supported.

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